The news that Greater Spokane League and Big Nine volleyball will meet in a state-qualifying regional tournament comes a year late for University High School.
Given the assumption that the GSL produces the state’s best volleyball, last year’s third-place finisher would have had an excellent chance to qualify for the event.
Gone are all but two players from that Titan team, reducing the odds of a repeat, although coach Rik Austing doesn’t sell this year’s team short.
“If anybody looks past us they’re in trouble,” he said.
While Austing’s charge is to keep U-Hi a playoff team in this, his ninth, year, new Central Valley coach Laurie Henry wants to get the Bear program back to what it was when she played there.
CV was last in the GSL a year ago.
“We do want to win,” she said, “but just getting the love back into the game is important. The kids said they could hardly wait until we start. It’s been a long time since they’ve said that.”
Titans build around two returnees
Third-year varsity members and outside hitters Devon Bakken and Sally Jamison are University’s only varsity veterans.
“They’re solid all the way around, are better than last year and leading by example,” said Austing.
Despite the dearth of varsity experience, appearances are deceiving. Because of club volleyball in the summer, and the addition of two transfers, the Titans are more seasoned than they appear.
“Since the kids began club, it makes a difference,” said Austing. “We can compete with anybody.”
Central Valley transfers Angel Whalen at setter and Kristina McAuley at outside hitter don’t hurt.
“Kristina hits the ball harder than anybody I’ve ever coached,” said Austing. “If we can get her consistent she’ll be a force.”
Joining them are seniors from last year’s junior varsity team. They include setter Jennifer Repp, middle blockers Laura Sanderson and Megan McInturff, all-around players Jamie Hills, Leslie Whitten, and Gretchen Smith.
Four juniors will alternate between varsity and junior varsity, Sally Andresen, Jessie Spear, Jessica Cole and Sarah Cheney.
This year’s playoff format change will send the top four teams from GSL district against the Big Nine with three teams qualifying for state.
“I think everybody is happy to see that now,” said Austing. “The GSL is the league to beat, there’s no question of that anymore. When their number one plays our number four, watch out. I don’t think the reverse holds true.”
New era and attitude at CV
There’s a new attitude among Bear volleyball players, engendered by the hiring of Henry.
“I told the kids and parents this is not the program for everyone,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll love me and sometimes they’ll hate me. It’s the direction it has to go.”
The Bears are working mainly on the basics of serving and passing and receiving in order to be competitive in league.
Of the nine varsity players included are letter winners Jessica Sackmann, moved from back row player to setter, senior outside hitter Carrie Sanders, junior middle or outside hitters Crystal Lee and Kori McElvain, senior back row player Jana McLendon and junior Ginger Clark, who came up part way through last season.
“She’s by far our number one all-around player and hardest worker,” said Henry.
Also on varsity are setter Jessica Ault, junior back row players Alix Miller and Sabrina Page.
“The pride is back,” said Henry of CV volleyball. “They have not had that in I don’t know how long.”
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